An apparent equipment failure in the main production building led to a chemical leak at the Honeywell Metropolis plant Sunday night.
The leak at the Metropolis, IL-based plant “was due to an apparent equipment failure in the main production building. Plant personnel followed all emergency procedures and plant safety systems performed as designed. There were no injuries and no indication that any UF6 material left the site. The plant is continuing its investigation into the incident and working to determine how much material was released,” said Honeywell spokesman Peter Dalpe.
The leak was of UF6, or uranium Hexa-fluoride, which is toxic and reacts with water. Honeywell’s Metropolis plant is the only U.S. facility that converts uranium oxide into to uranium hexafluoride, or UF6, which is then enriched to be used as fuel in nuclear power plants.
The leak began at 7:35 p.m. Sunday. “Plant personnel immediately activated emergency procedures and equipment and the plant’s trained emergency teams responded and contained the leak,” Dalpe said.
A white vapor did hover over the plant during the incident.
Honeywell said water contained the material in the area of the leak. “The water mitigation systems spray high volumes of water mist into the air and were the reason for the mist around the facility during the incident,” said Dalpe.
Honeywell contacted local and federal authorities about incident at the plant. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) is the federal agency responsible for monitoring safety issues at the plant.
The leak ended up contained to inside the building. While Honeywell was under a plant emergency, there was no danger to surrounding homes, Dalpe said.
An inspector from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission started an investigation at the plant on Tuesday, said NRC spokesman Roger Hannah.
“At this point we’re still in a fact-finding mode,” Hannah said. “We haven’t come to any conclusions about whether processes weren’t followed.” He said the investigation could take a few days to a week.